The nature of Christ

Discussion of Christ's human nature has gone on for nearly two thousand years, and continues among Seventh-day Adventist scholars. Perhaps we will never fully understand Christ, but we can accept His gift of life.

J.R. Spangler is editor of Ministry.

Did our Lord in His human nature begin where all of the other children of Adam began? Did Christ take the human nature of pre- or post-Fall man? If the human race was affected by the Fall of Adam and Eve, was Christ also affected the same way or was He exempt? If Christ accepted sinless human nature, did He have an advantage over us? Did He vicariously take upon Himself fallen human nature? If He took fallen human nature, was the "fallen" element related only to the physical and not to His moral character? Is it possible to settle the issue of the nature of Christ, which the Christian church has struggled with for two thousand years? Is it necessary for us to have a very definitive and accurate understanding of Christ's nature in order to be saved? Must Christ have our fallen nature (without ever sinning, of course) in order for Christians to live the unsullied life that He lived?

Through the years this subject has been one of fervent discussion. The book Questions on Doctrine, published in 1957, startled the thinking of Adventist ministerial leadership, since numerous statements from Ellen White's pen were used to support the concept that Christ had a sinless nature. M. L. Andreasen in a series of publications titled Letters to the Churches took issue with the position of Questions on Doctrine. L. E. Froom's book Movement of Destiny, published in 1971, again emphasized the sinless human nature of Christ, based largely on Ellen White's statements. In 1975 the book Perfection, published by the Southern Publishing Association, presented the views of four Adventist theologians on Christian perfection. The point was made that a person's soteriology is affected by his Christology. Eric Claude Webster in his published doctoral thesis, Crosscurrents in Adventist Christology, states, "The significance of this rift in Seventh-day Adventism is not insignificant."--Page 122.

We have purposely avoided placing anything in our journal dealing with the nature of Christ for several years. My editorial in the April, 1978, MINISTRY testified to my own struggle with this subject. I pointed out that I had been overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy in attempting to express my convictions. I prayed earnestly for the Lord to help me to dip my pen in the rich ink of love and truth rather than the ink of argument and debate. I am still convinced that the average man in the street or pew would be hopelessly lost if his salvation depended upon an incisive, scholarly understanding of Christ's nature. Yet, in view of the fact that there are those who earnestly believe that the church will fall or rise on its under standing of Christ and His nature, and in view of the renewed printed and verbal discussions on the subject, I feel that both sides of this question should be examined again. Therefore, we are setting forth two rather lengthy articles from two Adventist scholars.

We will leave it to our readers to study carefully the theology and reasoning introduced in these articles. If after reading them you wish to respond, we urge you to write short, pithy letters of not more than 250 words. We cannot promise to publish all letters, but we will select some and publish them on a percentage basis to give an idea of the direction the field is taking in this matter.

Above all, may the study of these articles lead us to a deeper understanding of the purpose of our Lord's incarnation and the tremendous sacrifice made on our behalf. Let not any argument over His nature obscure His eternal love and the fact that the need of a personal relationship with Him as our Saviour transcends all arguments and debates. Let it be remembered that although there may be two camps of believers on this subject within our church, there are significant major points of agreement.

Both sides believe that our Lord was fully human and fully divine; that He was tempted in all points like as we are; that He could have fallen into sin, thus aborting the entire plan of salvation, but that He never committed one sin. (It seems that to a large degree the difference in views may be attributed to different understandings of what constitutes sinful nature. There may be much less separating the two sides in this debate then there seems to be.)

I am confident that both of the scholars who authored these position papers would agree with me that we all stand before Christ realizing so little of His unfathomable love! That our Lord's divine-human nature in many respects is inscrutable.

I conclude with the same words that I used to conclude my editorial of 1978. "I can barely touch Your incarnation with the fingertips of my mind, knowing an infinity of knowledge lies beyond a thousand lifetimes of study. But I can, by faith, believe You came as One who was fully God and fully man; One who could successfully challenge Satan to find in You the slightest fault; One who identified Himself with me as a human being; One who ran the risk of failure in order to guarantee my eternal life; One who made the ultimate sacrifice as a ransom for my soul; and One who still stands at the door of my heart daily knocking and seeking entrance, not to condone my sins, but to help me overcome them. Forgive me, O Saviour, for my feeble response to Your love. Forgive my arrogance in thinking that I know all about Your nature. Fill me with Your magnificent love so that I may never in the perversity of my mind harshly judge my brother who may not see every point in doctrine as I see it. My only plea is that You will enable me to lift You, and You only, high before the world, not with words alone, but with a life surrendered and obedient to Your will."--J. R. S.

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J.R. Spangler is editor of Ministry.

June 1985

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